- Celebrate the lesson. When faced with a failure by someone in your company, as a leader you must stand up and praise the individual’s intention, risk-taking approach, or whatever. Find something positive to acknowledge and celebrate. Refuse to let the negative side of failure rule you or your team. Move on quickly, applying the lesson you learned. This is critical because, if you want people to push the envelope, take risks, and go above and beyond, you must cushion the fall when a failure happens. And failures will happen.
- Fuel the fire in your people. The truth is, the people who fail are the very same people who succeed. They are already suffering from the disappointment of the failure and are eager to prove themselves capable. Be compassionate and give them the enthusiasm, energy, and fire to keep going. They need your full confidence and support so they can rise up and not only finish the day’s work, but also come back tomorrow brimming with confidence and proposing bold new solutions.
- Go public. Next time you experience a failure or make a mistake of consequence, call a meeting and announce it to your team. This might scare the crap out of you before you do it, but afterward you will feel a great sense of freedom. Remember this feeling; it’s the absence of fear. When you announce your mistake, also say what you learned and what you did to correct your failure (to the extent possible) or how to prevent it from happening again. Take this opportunity to show the people you lead how deep your commitment goes.
Resistance to Change
- Create an idea-friendly environment. Make your business a place where new ideas are valuable. You can help that process by immediately giving consideration to new ideas, no matter how far out they may sound (for example, “That’s certainly a unique idea, Jane. Let’s give that some thought.”).
- Protect idea people. They are often free thinkers who may occasionally drive you nuts, but are worth their weight in gold to an organization that must thrive on new ideas. New ideas are the lifeblood of an organization. Businesses, similar to people, must be adaptable. We must change or die. The choice is simple.
- Champion new ideas. New ideas need protectors and champions. Ideas need a shepherd to guide them through the difficult processes that are most often set up for the sole intent and purpose of killing anything new. Committees and focus groups are often the sworn enemies of new ideas. You have to do all you can to slow the attackers who are waiting to pounce and kill new ideas with phrases such as “We tried that before,” “The client won’t like that,” “We don’t have enough time,” or “We don’t have enough money to try that.”
- Win over the enemies of new ideas. You are going up against formidable opponents, and you must be prepared or you will be eaten alive. You might begin by inviting them to share their ideas on how to improve an area of the business (perhaps not their own). Get them thinking of ideas and involved in the experience. You will probably hear some excellent problem-solving discussion. Give them the responsibility of finding a way around an obstacle (that they themselves have pointed out) when they resist a new idea.
- Consider big life changes. Set aside half an hour each week for “future planning.” Ask your-self, “What’s next?” Gather the most intriguing questions you can about potential changes in your business or your personal life
- Think about bigger world changes and how they might impact your business. Explore both positive and negative changes, such as legislative changes, economic shifts, global competition, climate change, rising energy costs, or developing new markets. How might each of these changes impact your business and your customers? How might you adapt to the changes? For example, rising energy costs will demand more efficient ways to get products or services to customers. How might your business achieve that?
- Embrace change in your life. Does taking risks and facing changes make you feel anxious or uncomfortable? Start with small changes: Change your morning routine. Rearrange your furniture. Try a new sport. You may be surprised how small changes such as these can put you on the path to handle bigger changes with more positive energy and enthusiasm. Ask yourself, “What am I afraid to change?” Change it—even if it’s only in a small way to begin. Demonstrating your fearless approach to change may add energy to your own life and value to your personal and business relationships. It places you in an elite class of leaders because, while many people are busy trying to survive the moment, you are planning and creating the future.
Leading From the Back
- Can you follow? Natural leaders may often dominate a group and have difficulties playing the role of a follower. Do you feel threatened by having others lead? If you always find yourself in the leadership role, consider how you can develop more well-rounded team player abilities so you don’t always have to be the leader.
- Share control. If you are accustomed to being in charge and calling the shots, how can you give others more control of how the work gets done? Can you break down projects and make different individuals accountable for each area? Can you let go and learn firsthand that the world will continue to spin on its axis?
- Take a sabbatical. If you believe you are indispensible, perhaps you are not doing a complete job of training, coaching, or grooming your staff. If you were to take a month-long vacation or sabbatical, would the organization be functional and thriving in your absence? One of a leader’s responsibilities is to mentor others. Consider how you might make this more of a priority.
Elevating Continuous Improvement
- Take the pulse of your organization. How long does the impact of a success or failure typically last? Days? Weeks? Months?
- Acknowledge failures with positive comments. Congratulate everyone on their efforts and remind them of the strengths and wisdom they gained from the experience. Put in perspective, a failure can do as much to motivate a team as a win.
- Establish a policy of evaluating successes and failures. Get everyone in the organization thinking about how to leverage success and failure to take the organization’s game to the next level.
Pushing Yourself to Fail
- Set a stretch goal. A stretch goal is one that you know you will probably not achieve—at least on your first attempt. However, the gains you make may surprise you when compared to setting a goal you know you can achieve. For example, if you walk regularly for your daily exercise, it’s no stretch to sign up for a 5K or 10K community event. To stretch your abilities, sign up for a half-marathon or one that will require disciplined training and commitment. Another stretch goal could be to master a foreign language rapidly by totally immersing yourself in the culture through native speakers, books, newspapers, audiotapes, restaurants, movies, ethnic community events, or travel.
- Try something new. Make it a habit to try one new activity, sport, or experience every month. It doesn’t matter what it is—rock climbing, painting, baking bread, tennis, experimental theater, or whatever appeals to you. You will likely fail at some things and succeed at others, but either way you will learn from the experience.
- Try something old. Take a failed idea or project. Examine it for insights into why it failed. Was there a particular time when it went off course? What factors contributed to its failure? If circumstances were different, might it succeed? Knowing what you know now, how confident would you be in trying it again?
- What are your obstacles? What are your fears? You may see physical obstacles, such as money, or mental obstacles, such as knowledge. If fear of failure is holding you back, develop a worst-case scenario plan to examine your fears. What are you risking by trying? What will you learn by trying? What will you lose by not trying?
- Establish your goals. Set them high. Include push goals that you are likely to fail at the first time you try.
- Write down your goals. Break each goal down into actions that can be more easily accomplished. Make notes of your actions and outcomes, whether you succeeded or failed, and the lesson you learned as a result.